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Exclusive Interview with Karen King, recipient of the Good Neighbor Award!!

Last week, we wrote an article regarding one of our agents, Karen King, winning the Massachusetts Association of Realtors’ Good Neighbor Award – an award doled out to the most community-conscious agents in the commonwealth.  However, winning this award does not truly portray the immense amount of effort Karen has invested into the town of Monson, Massachusetts…

As the clouds loomed over western Massachusetts on June 1st, Karen was on her way back from a real estate training class.  During her ride, Karen received a few phone calls from her team members telling of weather reports of a tornado warning for the Greater Springfield area.  By the time she got home to her husband in Monson, the thunderstorm had begun to yield golf ball-sized hail and, abiding the advice of the weather reports, took shelter in her basement.  The house began to shake as the power went out at her house, and thankfully their house had endured the storm without too much damage – however, in the eerie silence following the tornado passing, Karen and her neighbors stood outside their homes and watched the F3 tornado barreling eastward toward Palmer.

Monson didn’t have power for days following that, and as people emerged from destroyed home with nothing but the clothes on their backs, Karen could only describe their condition as uncannily similar to the dust-covered survivors of the September 11th attacks.  All in all, 95 homes in Monson (population: 8,560) were completely razed, while a total of 245 properties (17% of Monson’s households) were affected, including the severed steeple of the First Church of Monson, the police and fire stations, Monson’s Town Hall, and most of the cell phone towers in the area.

Immediately following the incident, RE/MAX Prestige started a foundation with several thousand dollars to go to tornado victims in western Massachusetts, people from across the commonwealth texted (the only form of communication due to the failed cell towers) Karen asking how they could help, and ended up sending donations by the truckload to Monson, Springfield, and other towns in the area.  The First Church of Monson, despite their fractured structure, began serving 2,500 meals per day by only volunteers, and was eventually accompanied by the Red Cross, National Guard, FEMA, and MEMA (the Mass. chapter of FEMA).  It got to the point that Karen and the local volunteers had too much, and had to forward a lot of the donations to other local towns.  Personally, though, Karen and her husband hosted thirteen people in their own house, whom were originally pulled out of the rubble in Palmer by Karen’s cousin.  She even opened up some of the houses that she had on the market to families that needed shelter, “making lemonade out of lemons” as she called it.

Karen saw an immediate need for action to be taken when speaking with FEMA volunteers, since they were handing out $250 for each family, but had very poor communication when doing so.  She took charge right away and was therefore invited to the “crisis command center,” comprising of all authorities in charge of communicating and assisting with the tragedy.  Equipped with this information, Karen now became a de facto ambassador between the authorities and her extensive sphere of influence in Monson.  Most of her outreach was in the form of her and some volunteers handing out flyers, water, and food throughout the streets of the small town.   One woman whom Karen assisted even called her group “angels in the street,” leading her to start her unofficial group, which she named the “Street Angels.”

As the number of volunteers grew, the Street Angels began growing in abilities, as they formed a telephone hotline for information and help, set up tents for shelter, and – with the financial backing of a local banker – hung tarps at the ends of streets with food, water, and suntan lotion (something necessary in the middle of June!).  For additional donations, the Street Angels also sold t-shirts with their organization’s name on it for $20 apiece, eventually amounting to approximately $15,000.  This amount was accompanied by another $500,000 raised for the Monson Tornado Relief Fund.

Once the electricity came back after several days, Karen was able to elevate the mentality of the thirteen people staying with her by holding dance parties and ignoring the news.  Some of her RE/MAX Prestige colleagues, including Sara Gasparrini and Steve Levine, continued the momentum with monetary, manual, and material donations as well.  Having electricity back gave Karen and the Street Angels an incredible advantage through social media, as high school student Laura Sauriol changed her Facebook Group entitled “Monson Tornado Watch 2011” from a science-related research forum to a common place for people to communicate needs and offers for donations and assistance.  Karen herself started a page called “Monson Homes Available for Tornado Victims” to help people find homes on the market for temporary shelter and another one for “Monson Animal Lost and Found,” which found 100% of the animals claimed missing!

If you’re asking yourself “how could someone be a successful realtor and still make all of this happen?  What is she gaining from this?” you’re not alone.

“People have actually asked me ‘what’s you’re agenda?’”  Karen said.  “I can’t believe that someone would assume I was doing all of this for some sort of benefit.”  In reality, Karen was raised in a very giving environment: her mother was a major volunteer as Head of Women’s Auxiliary at Wing Memorial Hospital and recipient of the “Gold Award” for being an adamant leader in Girl Scouts.  Her efforts inspired a local girl to join the Springfield Chapter of the Red Cross, in which she is now the Director of Emergency Response.

“If I could inspire people to do great things like my mom did, I would consider it a success,” she stated.  “I don’t want to be thought of for just my real estate career.”  Karen constantly thinks of the poem “The Dash” by Linda Ellis, which challenges people to think about how they live their life between their birth and death.   “I’ve found the fire in my belly,” said King.  “I love real estate and working with people.  Right now the fire in my belly is the community work and making an impact in more peoples’ lives.  With the difference that I have made so far, I couldn’t turn back now…it’s not even a hard decision to make!”

After devoting the two months after the tornado entirely to helping the people of Monson, Karen resumed her real estate business in August, learning how to “work smarter, not harder,” by devoting days to real estate and nights to her community.  In combining those two interests, Karen volunteered to spearhead the efforts to sell homes in Monson that were going to be torn down.  Since the inception of the Street Angels, Karen has shared her model with the Red Cross and FEMA in the hopes to increase the efficiency of those two groups in future disasters.

If you would like to donate manual or monetary efforts, or even to listen to the story first-hand, Karen is always willing to be contacted on Facebook or by email at Karen@kking.com.

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